By: Mandy Mitchell
How many times have you been interviewing someone when you have no earthly idea what the person just said?
You are busy thinking of your next question. Or maybe there are complicated facts you are going over in your head to make sure you don’t look silly. Maybe you are one-man-banding and the cloud just covered up the sun AGAIN and you have to adjust the iris AGAIN and you didn’t hear what the person you are interviewing just said.
That is stuff we all do and it’s stuff that gets in the way of truly listening. It’s the kind of stuff that can not only make you less effective as an interviewer, but can also cause you to miss out on something really great.
I was covering the College World Series at my last job and the coach surprised us all by naming a relief pitcher the starter for the next game. It may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, this was BIG news in Columbia, SC. It would be of great interest to our viewers and it was cause for many questions from the assembled press.
As we threw question after question at the coach, Ray Tanner, he mentioned the team’s trip to the local children’s hospital and casually noted that it was great to see an “old friend” who just happened to be a young man with cancer. No one was listening when he said that. Everyone was busy with this big story.
Luckily, I was listening.
I hung around after the other reporters had left and asked coach Tanner about the boy. He smiled and told me all about how Charlie was a bat boy for the team years earlier and how they had kept in touch. “Charlie will be at the game tomorrow,” he said. “You should meet him!”
Long story short, this ended up being an incredible story.
When the story aired another reporter came to me and said “how the heck did you find out about that?”
I told him how he had been there when Tanner mentioned it. “Oh…I didn’t hear that.”
This isn’t the only time this has happened. I have found many a story by simply listening during the interview process. I am also certain I have missed out on stories by not truly listening. It is very easy to focus on the 97 other things in your brain and that looming deadline.
Next time you are doing an interview, make a real effort to listen. Don’t worry about your next question. If you are listening, you will know what to ask. This practice will not only lead to great stories, it can also lead to better questions.